Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Eno River State Park, Cole Mill Access - Cole Mill Trail (Durham, NC)

Overview: Eno River State Park, a much beloved destination for Durham families, hosts a number of easy to moderate trails for the weekend hiker. If you're looking for an easy hike with spectacular views, try the Cole Mill Trail. This 1.2 mile trail follows the Eno River and then loops to the parking lot through upland forest.

Directions: The park is divided into five access points. The Cole Mill Trail (and the connecting Bobbitt's Hole Trail) is found at the Cole Mill access, located just north of Sparger Road off of Cole Mill Road (maps & directions here).

Observations & Ponderings: Eno River State Park, well-known among the Triangle's many outdoor enthusiasts, never ceases to offer new insight into Piedmont ecology and history. As you walk along the Cole Mill Trail, look across the river to view beautiful laurel covered bluffs.

View from Cole Mill Trail, Eno River SP - Cole Mill Access, February 2009 (© Nicolette Cagle 2009)

View of laurel covered bluffs from Cole Mill Trail, Eno River SP - Cole Mill Access, February 2009 (© Nicolette Cagle 2009)
The Cole Mill trail also is home to a number of different tree and shrub species, including the American bladdernut, with its distinctive three-sectioned seed pod. The American bladdernut is a native shrub or small tree reaching up to 12 feet in height that is most often found in bottomlands, along river banks. In mid to late spring, the bladdernut sports tiny, white bell-shaped flowers. This plant, found across eastern North America, is endangered in Florida and threatened in New Hampshire.

Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) on the Cole Mill Trail, Eno River SP - Cole Mill Access, February 2009 (© Nicolette Cagle 2009)

If you plan on exploring the Cole Mill trail with young kids, check out the sycamore stump. What animals could be hiding in there? Also, you can make this hike into a full day activity by continuing on the Bobbitt's Hole trail, which takes you to a popular swimming hole in the Eno River.

American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) stump on the Cole Mill Trail, Eno River SP - Cole Mill Access, February 2009 (© Nicolette Cagle 2009)

Hill covered with American holly (Ilex opaca) on the Cole Mill Trail, Eno River SP - Cole Mill Access, February 2009 (© Nicolette Cagle 2009)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Carnivore Preservation Trust (Pittsboro, NC)

Overview: The Carnivore Preservation Trust, located in Pittsboro, North Carolina, seeks to provide a refuge and sanctuary for mistreated or unwanted carnivores. For a $10 fee, visitors can tour the 55-acre refuge and learn about tigers, caricals, ocelots and a number of other members in the taxonomic order Carnivora (all members of this order have carnassial teeth, but not all members are carnivorous, i.e., meat eaters). Reservations are required.

Directions: The Carnivore Preservation Trust, located south of Chapel Hill, can be a bit tricky to get to (don't rely on Google maps for this). Detailed directions can be found here.

Observations & Ponderings: My family and I visited the Carnivore Preservation Trust (CPT) on Sunday, January 11, 2009 for the second time. After signing release forms, a friendly guide explained that the trust was originally founded by Dr. Michael Bleyman, who wanted to ensure the survival of keystone species from threatened ecosystems. Dr. Bleyman originally started a breeding program for caracals, servals, ocelots, and binturongs. This breeding program is no longer in place, and CPT now functions solely as a carnivore sanctuary.

After the brief introduction, we followed our guide onto the grounds of CPT where animals are kept in well-maintained habitats, often with heated sleep boxes, delineated by chain-linked fencing. We were first introduced to the caracals (a word meaning "black ears" in Turkish), a sand-colored, medium-sized cat with tufted black ears that is found mostly in the dry steppes and dry habitats of Africa and the Middle East.

Next, we met the the servals (Leptailurus serval) of Africa. These medium-sized cats are tawny and dotted with black spots. They also have a pair of white spots on the back of their ears, which allow servals to lead their young through the tall savanna grass. Interestingly, this cat can consume up to 4,000 rodents each year.

The CPT is home to a number of large tigers (Panthera tigris) of diverse origin: two were collected from the side of the road in North Carolina, others were once kept as pets and some used to be in zoos or the circus. According to our guide, there are currently more tigers in captivity in the state of Texas than exist in the wild. Tigers are found in Asia and prefer dense cover (e.g., forests) close to water. The tigers at the CPT had a variety of temperments; some were curious, others simply hungry for a chicken-leg snack and some seemed to seek out the special pleasure of marking visitors with a misty cloud of urine!

The last carnivore that we met was the binturong (Arctictis binturong), a nocturnal omnivore found in the rainforest canopies of southeast Asia. The binturong is especially significant, as it is "the only known animal with digestive enzymes capable of softening the seed coat of strangler fig", thus making it critical to the dispersal of strangler figs, an important rainforest plant (see: "Meet the animals- Binturong". Carnivore Preservation Trust). The binturong at CPT seemed amicable and enjoyed the banana bits offered by the guide, but they can be quite vicious when cornered.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Woodcocks (Scolopax minor), cryptic, stocky woodland birds with long pointed bills made for picking out small invertebrates, are out and about this February. This time of year, they can be found in open wooded areas (e.g., Mason Farm, Butner Game Lands near the end of Brick House Road) making a scene with their whimsical mating displays. Male woodcocks will fly high into the air and spiral back down to earth, making a soft twittering sound as they descend, in order to attract females. These displays usually occur at dawn and dusk. A week ago, woodcock displays were occuring around 6:00pm. Good luck!

Note: Please post a comment of when and where you see woodcocks performing their mating ritual this month!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Raven Rock State Park (Lillington, NC)

Overview: Raven Rock State Park, located south of the Triangle in Lillington, North Carolina, revitalizes one's senses on a cold, winter day with its dramatic scenery. The major attraction, the Raven Rock itself, is easily reached on the Raven Rock loop trail (2.6 miles). The Raven Rock loop trail is an easy hike, until climbing back up the stairs that take one down to the banks of the scenic Cape Fear river.

Directions: Raven Rock State Park is located in Harnett County, west of Lillington. From the intersection of US 1 and US 421, take US 421 south. Turn left onto Raven Rock Road, which will take you straight into the park. More detailed directions can be found here.

Observations & Ponderings: Raven Rock State Park's topographic extremes (high jutting cliffs, hilly uplands and muddy bottomlands) provide abundant habitat for numerous tree species. On this trip, we identified blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica), black oak (Quercus velutina), chestnut oak (Quercus montana), shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata), loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), northern red oak (Quercus rubra), white oak (Quercus alba), water oak (Quercus nigra), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), and dogwood (Cornus florida) in the upland habitats alone.

Black oak (Quercus velutina) at Raven Rock SP, January 11, 2009 (© Nicolette Cagle 2009)

Black oak (Quercus velutina) bark at Raven Rock SP, January 11, 2009 (© Nicolette Cagle 2009)

Below the Raven Rock along the Cape Fear River, Raven Rock SP, January 11, 2009 (© Nicolette Cagle 2009)

For me, this journey to Raven Rock State Park on January 11, 2009, had a much deeper meaning. At nearly 40 weeks pregnant with a baby boy, the spectacular view of the Cape Fear river and valley was particularly poignant. It triggered thoughts about the vastness of earth's history and how the landscape is continually changing at all time scales, macro and micro. This made me consider how my own life was about to change, how I was bringing a new life into the world and that this new baby would see changes that I never would. When I took this hike, I knew that baby Grant would be arriving soon. This hike, in fact, seemed to jump start labor contractions. After 27 hours of labor, baby Grant Joseph Cagle arrived into this ever-changing, awe-inspiring world.

Overlooking the Cape Fear River, Raven Rock SP, January 11, 2009 (© Nicolette Cagle 2009)